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The Clare Balding Report: “Radio 4’s reporter made me tetchy”

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I had a run-in with the Today programme on Radio 4 the other day. The sports reporter referred to the lack of women on last year’s Sports Personality Of The Year (SPOTY) shortlist as a ‘hoo-ha’. This made me a little tetchy. “Please don’t trivialise it,” I snapped. “It was not a hoo-ha. It was a matter for genuine debate and entirely reflective of the lack of media coverage of women’s sport.”

I think he got the message. So did thousands of listeners who tweeted their support. This is the time for change and in Stylist, I now have a regular column in which to showcase women’s sport. This really matters to me and I hope it matters to you. I think women’s sport has the power to change the world by giving young girls role models to admire, goals for which to aim and a healthy body image that will allow them to be physically and mentally stronger.

The five women on this year’s SPOTY shortlist reflect the huge variety of sports open to women and the talent they exude inspires us all. Nicola Adams smiled her way to an historic first boxing gold medal won by a woman. Gentle away from the ring, she shows that women can be strong and agile and proves that we don’t have to be limited by traditional definitions of male and female roles.

They say women are good at multi-tasking and Jessica Ennis is athletic proof of that. Facing seven events over two days, each one of them requiring a different skill, she dominated the heptathlon. Confident and bright, every day in Ennis world is full of sunshine.

Katherine Grainger is the modern-day Robert the Bruce. He may have sat in a cave staring at a spider thinking ‘if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again’ but the 37 year old proved it for herself. Three Olympic silver medals is not how she wanted her story to end, so she teamed up with Anna Watkins. Together, they turned the double sculls into a victory procession. Equally impressive was the way she held it together afterwards. She didn’t weep as Sir Steve Redgrave hugged her (I did and I was only watching) but she exuded a quiet dignity.

I think women’s sport has the power to change the world

At the other end of the age scale is Ellie Simmonds. For the last year she has combined her training with studying for A-levels. I first met Simmonds in Beijing when she was only 13. Even then she was serious about her sport. This was not a thing she was doing for fun – she was doing it to win. In London she set world records in the 400m freestyle and the 200m individual medley. Her tears after winning her second gold medal were a combination of joy and relief. That’s when you could see the release of stress – she knew she was the face of Paralympics GB and she desperately wanted to deliver.

Finally (in alphabetical terms) we have the story of Sarah Storey. A born competitor, she is not afraid to show her determination and her confidence. She first competed at the Paralympics as a swimmer at the age of 14. After bagging five gold medals in that sport, she switched to cycling. Having narrowly missed out on qualification for the Olympic team, she was a hot favourite to win her track events but Storey is not satisfied unless she is pushing the boundaries, so she added two road race events. The gamble paid off and Storey walked away with four gold medals. She has set new standards in Paralympic cycling and continues to be the leader of the pack.

Five incredible women whose greatest triumph is yet to come. In the years ahead, thousands of us will use their exploits to spur us on. That’s what inspiring role models do and why it’s important to have them. Thank you to all five and I hope that they will help kickstart a new era for women’s sport in this country.

I will do my best to help the cause but on the night of SPOTY itself, I’ll be more concerned with not messing up my interviews and not falling over in front of 15,000 people at the ExCeL. I’m co-presenting the show for the first time since 2000 and I know my heart will be racing. A live audience is always more daunting than the millions you can’t see watching at home but this is an iconic show. It’ll be a fabulous night to celebrate the sporting joys of 2012 and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

See Clare co-present Sports Personality Of The Year at 7.30pm on BBC1 on Sunday 16 December

Do you agree with Clare? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @StylistMagazine and #clarebaldingreport

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